It has been reported that participation in sport across the UK has fallen by 200,000 since October 2012.
15.3 million of us apparently play sport at least once a week but, according to Sport England, this is down from the 15.5 million who participated in sport some eight months ago. A 200,000 difference might not seem a significant enough figure for people to lose sleep over, but the main issue of concern is how the promise of a long-lasting Olympic legacy has generated no more than a small surge of interest, which has been quickly lost.
We’re quick to blame the weather for preventing us from completing menial everyday tasks: hanging the washing out, walking the dog, walking to the gym. But I’m not sure that the argument that this poor weather is one of the primary reasons for this recent drop in participation is a sound one.
Explaining away these figures by blaming the weather is not the correct attitude if we’re looking to successfully go on to address the problem. It’s also a slightly ironic argument, since the great British weather is not only out of our control but it’s a factor which has always been present. Nothing has changed. Should we be pleased with the fact that we still have relatively high participation figures despite the poor winter, or concerned by the indication that the government have missed their primary legacy target by 50%?
As the sun rose on the morning after the Olympic closing ceremony, children across the country were tying the laces of their new sports trainers and nagging their parents to take them to the local park, pool, or shooting range. Eight months later and it seems that was just a phase; a phase that lasted as long as the GB football team did at the Olympics.
But sport should be for life, not just for summer.
Between them, David Cameron and Seb Coe promised the country that the ‘Olympic Legacy’ would live on and that Britain would be defined by its value of sport at all levels. This recent drop in participation, however, leaves us wondering how exactly this proposed strategy of getting more children involved in sport has been implemented, and how it will continue to be implemented. To add to the problem, the government now faces the daunting task of trying to get participation levels back to where they were in October last year before they can even begin to increase them.
There are those who claim that sport is expensive to take part in. Take football for instance; pitches are not cheap to book and referees are expensive to hire. Many people simply do not have the disposable income to spend on playing sport. But you cannot expect the government to provide endless facilities, nor can people blame the government for their own lack of willpower to get out and exercise. Organised sport and physical activity are two very different things, and, while participation in organised sport can indeed be affected by financial factors, going for a run or having a kick about in the local park are free activities that should be part of everyone’s daily life.
I have never met anyone who has actually contributed to the surveys that provide these condemning stats, nor do I know how they are carried out, but surely the figure of a 200,000 drop must include those (not) taking part in everyday physical activity, and not just organised sport. This is where the responsibility of parents comes in to play. Every parent is accountable for the physical activity of their children up to a certain age, and they are also responsible for communicating to their children the importance of sport and maintaining a healthy lifestyle at the same time.
Having said all of this, 15.3 million people participating in sport across the UK is by no means a poor amount, and the total is up by 1.4 million since Britain won their bid to host the Olympics in 2005. Plus the gender gap has apparently been narrowed significantly, which can only be a good thing.
But it remains disappointing to see a decrease in participation since last year when apparently interest is high and facilities are thriving after a £150 million cash injection. There should be a positive correlation between interest, facilities and participation, but at the moment the latter is a problem – the cause of which is hard to put a finger on.
Wimbledon will inevitably bring a rejuvenation of tennis interest to the country over the next month, but only time will tell whether the effect of professional sport is enough to get Britain’s armchair fans outside and taking part themselves.